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From the top Nick Parker

ICAEW president Nick Parker on making the profession more diverse and the encouraging progress made so far.

As many of you will know, I am passionate about diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace. I believe that, in any organisation, employees should be able to come to work and be themselves. They shouldn’t have to put on an act through fear of how their colleagues might judge them because of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality or religion.

Research has shown that people who feel comfortable in themselves at work are up to 32% more productive than those who don’t. Yet even though we are living in the 21st century, some of the statistics unearthed by researchers make for shocking reading, particularly when it comes to sexuality. Recent surveys, for example, have revealed that 62% of LGBT graduates who were out at university go back into the closet when applying for their first job and that 41% are not comfortable coming out at work. This is not surprising when you read that 43% of gay men have encountered homophobia in the workplace.

I’m a great believer in our profession reflecting the society we serve. ICAEW’s diversity advisory group is currently looking at how to improve our membership statistics so that we are truly representative. We have made great strides in becoming more inclusive. ICAEW hosts an annual dinner for the Professional Services LGBT Group and I am impressed by the amount of work that is being done by the firms to make all their people feel able to express themselves freely.

In terms of gender, our student intake is almost there – it’s about 56/44 and it should be 50/50 – and Learning and Professional Development is working on a number of initiatives to encourage more women into the profession.

On ethnicity, our intake of Asian students is well above the UK norm (15% to 8%). Where we fall down is in relation to black students. Young and talented black people seem to prefer the law or medicine. We are intending to do research to see if we can find out why.

Social mobility is another area we are currently tackling to encourage bright kids from deprived areas and disadvantaged backgrounds to come into the profession. I was immensely proud when, in June, the Social Mobility Foundation, the Social Mobility Commission and the City of London published the inaugural social mobility employer index top 50 businesses, with Grant Thornton in first position and KPMG a close second. Deloitte, PwC and EY were all ranked in the top 16 as well.

Of course, we are not there yet – indeed we still have a long way to go. My ambition is that ultimately we will be the most open of the professions, that no matter who anyone is or what their beliefs are, they feel comfortable working as an ICAEW chartered accountant. If we can get that right, then we are doing a good job.

Originally published in Economia, October 2017.